Sheep seasons are opening up around the Rockies, archery antelope season is here, and archery elk and mule deer hunts will be upon us in no time. These early season hunts come with a great deal of anticipation. But the warm weather presents a challenge in terms of meat care.
From hot dusty plains to intense alpine sun, you’ll need to have a careful game plan to get your meat out of the field safely and cleanly during these early seasons.
As you prepare for opening day, here are a few reminders when it comes to warm weather meat care:
1. Always Carry a Kill Kit
Don’t rely on a trip back to the truck in order to fetch game bags, knives and other essentials. Create a kill kit and keep it on your person at all times when hunting. On these early season hunts, you’ll need to begin the field dressing and cool-down process immediately. Time is critical.
Not sure what you’ll need in a kill kit? Keep an eye out for our next blog post! We’ll be sharing exactly what’s in ours.
2. Think Cool Thoughts
Every situation is different, and the resources on hand will change each situation. You could be a mile from the nearest tree, in a dense stand of lodgepole pines, or anything in between. Whatever the case, use any means possible to cool the meat down quickly.
In any situation, this starts with gutting the animal and removing the hide. Additionally, hang quarters or find a way to lay them over branches so that air can circulate around all sides. If there’s a creek bed nearby where the air temperature is cooler, use it. If you don’t have any available shade, stake out a Hunter’s Tarp to create some. Do whatever you can to make sure the meat can begin to cool.
3. Keep it Clean and Protected
As soon as you remove the hide, place each quarter in a clean game bag. Avoid getting dirt and hair on the meat. If you’ll be boning out your meat to pack it out of the field, lay it on a clean Hunter’s Tarp and then immediately place the boned-out pieces into a game bag.
Our game bags are extremely breathable. This will allow your meat to cool without trapping moisture or creating any greenhouse effect. Caribou Gear game bags will also keep flies, dirt and other contaminants from coming into contact with your meat.
During these early-season hunts, we also highly recommend using citric acid spray. This can be sprayed directly onto the meat. It is proven to inhibit bacterial growth and is a natural preservative. What’s more, it easily washes off when you’re ready to process the animal, leaving no taste.
As soon as the meat is packed out of the field, it should go into a cooler or cold storage as soon as possible. For this reason, have frozen water jugs ready and waiting in your cooler at the vehicle. We prefer frozen jugs over ice because it reduces the moisture coming into contact with the meat. As much as possible, avoid soaking the meat. Dry, cool meat is the ideal scenario.
Finally, when you’re home and ready to process the animal, wash the exterior of the meat with a vinegar-water solution and pat it dry. This wash will remove the citric acid spray, plus any stray hair or dirt. It will also rehydrate the “rind” which naturally forms on the outside of the meat. The rind is totally usable meat and doesn’t need to be discarded.
Whenever possible, avoid deboning, processing or freezing the meat until after the muscles have relaxed from rigor mortis. Of course this isn’t always possible. But meat that has been allowed to pass through rigor before deboning and cutting will be noticeably more tender.
By Ryan McSparran
Ryan is an outdoor writer based in Colorado, and is proud to be a part of the team at Hunting Gear Outfitters.